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Wholly set up and printed in Australia by Eagle Press Ltd., Allen St., Waterloo for

The Cornstalk Publishing Company 89 Castlereagh Street, Sydney 1929

Registered by the Postmaster-General for transmission through the post as a book


THE GREAT BARRIER REEF    . .    . .    . .    . .    7

THE FIRST VISITORS ..    ..    ..    ..    ..    11

BUNDABERG TO LADY MUSGRAVE    . .    . .    . .    18

LADY MUSGRAVE ISLAND    . .    . .    . .    . .    23

THE MUTTON-BIRD . .    . .    . .    . .    . .    31

NODDIES AND GANNETS    . .    . .    . .    . .    38

HERONS, GULLS, AND TERNS    ..    ..    ..    . .    4 8

SOMETHING ABOUT CRABS    . .    . .    . .    . .    55

FISH AND FLORA    ..    ..    ..    ..    ..    59

THE WAYS OF THE TURTLE . .    . .    . .    . .    64

THE WAYS OF THE TURTLE (continued)    ..    ..    70

TURTLE-SOUP AND TURTLE-RIDING    . .    . .    . .    75

WONDERS OF THE REEF    . .    . .    . .    . .    81

WONDERS OF THE REEF (continued)    ..    ..    ..    88

SHELLS    . .    . .    . .    . .    . .    . .    02

INSECTS AND CORAL . .    . .    . .    . .    . .    og

If the coastline of Australia be regarded as our national boundary fence, the Great Barrier Reef may well be likened to a strip of hoop-iron that has become loosened from its north-eastern edge, and which, held almost to the fence at Cairns and Cooktown by its rusty nails, has swayed in distorted curves farther and farther outward as it runs both north and south. The southernmost portion of this swaying strip is Lady Elliot Island. To the north lies the Bunker Group of Reefs and Islets consisting of Lady Musgrave Island, Fairfax Island and Jfoskyn Island. Still farther to the north-westward there lie the reefs and islets of the Capricorn Group, so called because the tropic of Capricorn cuts right through their centre. This group is made up of a number of reefs and islands, of which, Heron Island, Masthead Island, and N.W. Islet are the best known.

A party of about thirty, of whom nine were ladies, started out from Sydney on the afternoon of Sunday the thirteenth of November 1927, under the direction of Mr E. F. Pollock, F.R.G.S., sometime honorary secretary and present councillor of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, to visit the Bunker and Capricorn groups for the purposes of nature-study and holiday combined. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the party, and


the experiences I was thereby able to enjoy will be remembered by me with a happy and a grateful heart while memory holds her seat within me.

To crown the work, Nature gave us the assistance of perfect weather. Although for the greater portion of our time we were within the tropical zone, the nights were always cool—so cool that blankets were a comfort—and, though the days were hot, they were made glorious with lovely seas and brilliant beaches, with sights and sounds of which it is impossible to give in words anything but the poorest of impressions. We swam in water which held an exhilaration in its very touch; we collected strange and valuable treasures of the reef and the lagoon; we witnessed the marvellous prodigality of nature in the seas and in the air; we fished. In a word, we “saw great wonders and the marvellous things of life proceeded before our eyes." And let it be added with gratitude, there were no mosquitoes, nor, indeed, insect pests of any kind.

In the Barrier Reef Nature has bestowed a gift upon Australia which is as unique as it is wonderful. Think of it! It contains an area of over 80,000 square miles; of its length of 1500 miles over 1000 miles are in purely Australian waters. It contains thousands of islands, both mountainous, such as every passenger on the northern tourist boats has viewed with admiration, and “low islands” in every stage of their growth, from mere hillocks of broken sand to tree-clad bird-haunted islets of verdure and beauty. The Great Barrier, indeed, is not, as so many people think of it, a single long low wall of coral reef, but a perfect maze of islands, cays, and reefs, intertwined and threaded by the lanes and chan-

nels which for the navigator to miss is to court disaster. And the marvels of these islands from the point of view of the scientist and the nature-lover! And the teeming immensity of their life! Only a few of them have been studied with any care, and of none of them is our knowledge yet complete.

There is nothing like the Harrier in the world; nothing approaching it in dimensions or interest or value. And the value is by no means scientific only. The commercial value of its products, if they were properly exploited, would justify a thousandfold any cost that might be incurred. Beche-de-mer, pearls, turtles, guano, fish—these

are avenues in which much profit remains to be won.

The Great Barrier Reef should be made the great national asset which its wealth and life and wonder intended it to be. Its attractions for tourists, if carefully developed, would prove irresistible. Xo man or woman with any heart at all for “the things that are more wonderful” can visit these lovely and amazing scenes and come away unaffected. Then, again, these areas of reef and islet are absolutely unequalled as the nursery for Australian seamen. Xo better training than is provided by their intricacies, their sudden storms, their vagaries of tide and current could be imagined. Finally, from the point of view of science—and, after all, that is the greatest and the most important—the Barrier opens up vast and entrancing fields for investigation.

The marine fauna, in particular, is unequalled in richness anywhere on the globe. The geological problems offered are as curious as they are elusive. A century would not be half long enough to examine properly the thousand miles of reef and islet, cay and lagoon.


Here is the story of the Barrier and its waters; and, short as it is, you will find it studded with “moving accidents and hairbreadth 'scapes,” even as its mazy reefs are studded with the wrecks that illustrate them. Few passengers who travel the Barrier route, and bless the reefs which make their seas so smooth and their days so happy, have any chance of making acquaintance with the Barrier islands. Every skipper who knows his business clings close to the shore and cautiously threads those channels through the rugged coastal archipelagoes which in such places as Whitsunday Passage add a green and gracious beauty to the trip. But no one sees, except perhaps at times as hazy outlines on the horizon, the line of cays and islets which mark the real presence of the Barrier. Only as the ship approaches Cairns does the line come sweeping near the coast; thence onward, until the dangers of Torres Strait are passed, the trail is so beset with reef and rock that it can be navigated only by day and with the aid of a pilot.

Moreover, the hurricane belt runs as far south as latitude 20, and there are few summers during which the furies of the wind do not play havoc with shipping and the coastal towns. A further curious feature of this Barrier area is that, owing to the neck between the

mainland and the outer reefs gradually narrowing towards the north, the tides that sweep up from the south are forced between the converging sides to heights unknown on other parts of the coast. And, of course, the waters sink again, when the tidal wave has passed, in a proportionate degree. All these abnormal characteristics combine to make the Barrier waters highly treacherous to navigation, even in these days of steam. What they must have been in those old days when Cook and Bligh and Matthew Flinders first tried to thread their devious ways through them, it is impossible to realize. But, both from our own knowledge and from the journals which those intrepid voyagers have left, we can quite easily imagine it.

Even Cook, however, was not “the first to burst into that silent sea.” That honour belongs, apparently, to the great Spanish sailor whose name has been given to the strait that lies between Australia and New Guinea —Captain Luis Vaes de Torres.

It was in the year 1605 that the expedition under the leadership of the Spanish Admiral de Quiros set out from South America with the object of exploring the Southern Pacific. Torres was in charge of one of the ships, and the party succeeded in discovering the New Hebrides next year. Then, by a set of curious circumstances, de Quiros and Torres missed each other. De Quiros went back to South America, but Torres carried on. He sailed still farther westward, and came at last to the outer fringes of the Barrier Reef, just where it strikes towards the southern shore of New Guinea. It says much for the daring seamanship of Torres that he succeeded in passing right through the terrible intrica-

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cies of the strait and reached the Arafura Sea in safety. It was a noteworthy trip in many ways; but in nothing was it more noteworthy than in the fact that, he sailed so closely to the coast of New Guinea that he passed through Torres Strait, without knowing that it was a strait, and without seeing Australia.

1 his was in 1606; but, owing to the death of Torres and the disappearance of his papers, his discoveries were not made known, and Captain Cook had to come along and rediscover Torres Strait a century and a half later. If the feat of Torres, in passing through the Barrier at its most northerly point, was a great one, what shall be said of Cook's achievement? For Cook sailed upwards from the south along the whole line of the Barrier waters, entering them off the spot where Bundaberg now stands, and not leaving them until he, too, had passed through Torres Strait and reached the safer waters of the Arafura Sea. As might be expected, he did not compass this amazing voyage without accident. As the southern end of the Barrier is far to the east of the mainland, and as Cook hugged the coast, it was not until he had penetrated the waters of the reef area for some hundreds of miles that he had the faintest conception of the danger into which he was entering. But on the night of 11 June, 1770, he was made aware of it in the sharpest fashion. The Endeavour suddenly ran upon a hidden reef and stuck there, hard and fast. It was a terrible position; but by strenuous work the ship was so lightened—even the guns being thrown overboard—that the crew were enabled to haul her off into deep water.

She was then “fathered” (a sail was drawn under her keel) and slowly drawn to the mainland at the spot which subsequently became the site of Cooktown. Here, with infinite pains, she was repaired, and once more the great navigator was ready to set out upon his journey. Before leaving the mainland, however, he ascended the eminence known as Grassy Hill and was horrified to find that the sea, as far as the eye could reach, was crisscrossed with countless reefs. With great skill and anxious care—the weather fortunately remaining calm— he managed to find a path through the labyrinth, and at last entered the open ocean to the eastward.

Three days later he was again in imminent peril. He had reached a spot a little to the south-eastward of Cape Weymouth, when a calm set in. Gradually the Endeavour was driven by current and tide towards the surf-lined outer reef. Nearer and nearer it approached, until, as Cook has told us in his immortal diary, “between us and destruction was only a dismal valley, the breadth of one wave. All the dangers we had escaped were little in comparison of being thrown upon this reef, where the Shij) must be dashed to pieces in a moment.” But at the last instant, even as destruction stared them in the face, “a small Air of Wind sprung up,” and of this Cook took such good and prompt advantage that he was once more able to save the ship and all her company. A narrow passage, which he appropriately named Providential Channel, was discovered; through this he sailed the good Endeavour and found himself once more inside the Barrier. Slowly he sailed north again, the ship’s boats piloting the course between the shoals and reefs, until a week later he reached and passed through Torres Strait. It was then, on 22 August, 1770—a day for ever to be marked in gold upon the calendar of Australia and the Empire—that Cook, having accomplished one of the most difficult and dangerous feats in the whole history of navigation, landed on Possession Island and, in the name of His Majesty King George the Third, took formal possession of the whole eastern coast of “New Holland.”

After Cook came Bligh, who with eighteen companions was set adrift in an open boat by the mutineers of the Bounty, and who was now well on his way to the end of his marvellous voyage over nearly four thousand miles of sea, to Timor. On 29 May, 1789—the twenty-sixth day of this eventful journey—Bligh and his unhappy companions sighted the breakers of the Barrier. Two days later they found a passage through the reefs a little to the south of Providential Channel, and, bringing their boat safely through, landed on Restoration Island. The weary voyagers found the spot delightfully recuperative, with fresh water, wild fruit, and shellfish in abundance. After resting there for two days they set forth, upon the long, dong trail. A week’s voyaging north along the Queensland coast through the smooth Barrier waters brought them to Torres Strait. Passing safely through, they toiled across the Arafura Sea to their goal.

In I792 Bligh was once more in the waters of Northern Australia, and spent some weeks mapping the tangled sea near Torres Strait. Under his command was a young officer who was to do great things for Australia. This was Matthew Flinders, whose wonderful exploratory and survey work on the Australian coastline has earned the gratitude and admiration of every subsequent authority. Not least among the results of his services was the increased knowledge of the ways of the Barrier which he gave to the world. Since his day the mapping of these intricate waters has gone on more or less continuously (thanks mainly to the ships and men of the British and Australian navies), with the result that although vast numbers of the islands and reefs are still but little known, the charting of the Barrier waters is wonderfully complete.

The routes from the southern portions of the Australian continent to Japan and the Dutch Indies, to China and the Philippines, to Singapore and all the teeming ports of the East, lie up this narrow island-studded way; and every year the traffic grows more crowded there. It is a wonderful passage, a passage every mile of which calls forth admiration. The dangers of wreck and tempest which long overshadowed it have lightened with the knowledge that the years have brought, until, to-day, mapped, sounded, measured, and controlled, it is traversed in safety by a myriad of keels.


The Pharaohs of Old Egypt raised their pyramids by the labour of a countless multitude of slaves, teamed like cattle, and treated like cattle. Both Pharaohs and slaves now lie together, forgotten and indistinguishable dust, but the pyramids remain, the monuments alike of powered pride and ceaseless toil. In much the same way, but on an infinitely greater scale, both as regards the workers and the work, Nature has built the Barrier Reef. Every inch of it is the work of the coral polyp, a “little lump of animated jelly,” never larger than a hand could span, generally smaller than a pea. It resembles the sea-anemone, both in looks and in habits, and the circlet of waving arms which both possess is used by both for the same purpose. Hosts of animalcules are caught within that lethal flower, stung to death, and pushed within the body of their captor. The lime of which those tiny victims partly consist is deposited by the “coral insect” round its body; and, as the accretions grow, so grows the coral upward, until the surface of the sea is reached. Thus is the reef formed, not of the bodies of the workers themselves, which would in itself be wonderful, but of the incalculable fragments of the incalculable horde of animated specks on which those workers feed.

So amazing is it that no imagination is capable of truly visualizing its marvel. What an overwhelming insight into the working of Nature's laboratory does this great Barrier Reef, then, give us! How insignificant the tools! How vast the structures that those tools erect!

Photo: Mrs. MV. MacGUlivra*"


As has been already said, our first port of call upon the Reef was Lady Musgrave Island, while the southernmost of all the gems upon its swinging string is Lady Elliot Island, some thirty miles or so away.

Bundaberg was our jumping-off place, and we reached it early in the morning of the second day out from Sydney. Bundaberg is quite a town. It calls itself, and apparently with reason, the capital of the southern sugar belt of Queensland. It is about 200 miles north of Brisbane, and is situated on, and some miles from the mouth of, the opulent Burnett River. It has fine wide streets, good shops, comfortable hotels, and all the facilities that one could expect of so distant a centre, together with many that one would never anticipate. It is the home of the ceratodus, or “lung-fish,” a kind of amphibious beast that breathes like a human being and can still give points to any human who ever breathed by living beneath the surface of the water with the rest of its fishy brethren. I say that Bundaberg is its home; of course, I should say the Burnett River and its banks. Nowhere in the world but in the Burnett and its sister river, the Mary, is the ceratodus to be found. There is an excellent museum in Bundaberg, wherein are collected together numbers of curios and queer creatures, and its honorary curator went out of his way to show us the rarer of its treasures and expatiate upon them as though he loved them—as indeed, I have no doubt he did.

For the rest, all I have to say of Bundaberg is that its private gardens are delightful, with their mixed array of tropical and temperate flora, ranging from the frangi-panni and the mango to the delphinium and the gladiolus; and that there is one street, bordered by a double row of weeping-figs, which is at once magnificent and soothing —a “grateful and comforting” delight.

The original intention was that the party should embark at eventide and, travelling all night, reach Lady Musgrave Island at dawn. So, after tea, we proceeded to the wharf and, taking our courage in both hands, and

cumbered otherwise with such parts of our baggage as had not been already stowed, we clambered on board our ships by ricketty ladders, or swung ourselves down swaying ropes.

Our fleet consisted of three auxiliary launches, the Warrior—the flagship, some forty-five feet in length,

Photo : O. H. Kerry


accommodating a score of the party, including the ladies —and the Skandia and the Coolurn, each of some ten feet less, and each carrying, in addition to the greater portion of the luggage and stores, some half-dozen members of the expedition. All three proved themselves comfortable boats, and by the united efforts of their

engines and sails they conveyed us very happily over many miles of ever-restless sea.

We reached the Burnett Heads about eleven o’clock, but, after travelling some few miles out to sea, it was decided to leave the crossing until daylight. And so we passed the night aboard as best we could; somewhat cramped, indeed, but snug. In the morning the whole party descended upon the proprietor of the Lighthouse Hotel, at the little settlement at the heads, and demanded to be fed. The proprietor scurried off on a bike and bought up all the available bread and sundries in the district, and a breakfast of porridge and bacon and eggs was soon forthcoming.

Half an hour later we were once again afloat, and, as the coast of Queensland faded out of sight behind us, we began to realize that the great adventure had truly started. All was peace and plain sailing; and when, at four o’clock, the trees of Lady Musgrave appeared above the horizon, every member of the party was ready to greet her with cheers.



As distinguished from the high and rocky islands which throng the inner reaches of the Reef area, and which represent the tops of mountains once ranging round the coastline of our continent, there are three kinds of reefs or islets on the outer Barrier. These three are called respectively “atolls," when they consist of a circular reef with an enclosed lagoon, “cays," when they consist of a solid reef or sand heap with no lagoon, and “pseudoatolls," when they consist of a circular reef on some portion of whose circumference an island has been formed. This formation is usually accomplished by the waves breaking off portions of the half-submerged reef—usually on the west or leeward side—and piling them together. Against this mass of broken coral other sand is washed and the heap grows into a sandhill. Seeds are washed ashore and brought by birds, trees grow and with their decaying vegetation help to swell the island’s girth, while outward to the circle of the reef there stretches sometimes the lagoon and sometimes a submerged continuation of the reef itself, with pools and lakelets of varying depth distributed bewilderingly across it.

Lady Musgrave is distinctly an island of this character. It lies upon the south-west of its reef, the circle of which is not quite complete. Its ends overlap a little, and


through the passage thus formed the entrance to its deep and placid lagoon is made. At high tide the whole reef is under water, and, indeed, at times is so deeply submerged that no signs of breaking water show at all, and the entrance cannot be distinguished. On one occasion this fact occasioned us considerable difficulty

Photo : Dr. L. McKeon


for, returning in the launch at high tide from a visit to a neighbouring island, our skipper could not find the little inlet. After nearly an hour’s questing, he managed to discern it and pilot 11s through to safety and to tea.

The outer edge of the reef is fully a mile from that portion whereon the island is situated, and the enclosed lagoon is about two miles in length by one in width. It is on the seaward edge of the reef, down which the tide flows out in a series of cascades, or in the pools left in the exposed portions of the inner reef, that the most absorbing and entrancing visions of life in the coral are seen.

Our voyage to the island had been made in perfect circumstances. The day was ideal—indeed, during the whole period of our stay on the Barrier, with one short exception, the weather was perfect in every detail. The sky was cloudless; a refreshing breeze ruffled the waters and checked the ardour of the sun ; and all around lay a sea whose glory of light and colour would have beggared the palette of a Turner. We had sailed just slightly east of north across some sixty miles of almost fleckless blue, a blue unbroken save by an occasional wind-whipped wave-crest or the skimming flight of a flying-fish, over whose power and method of progression considerable argument arose. But certainly we saw one of them which “flew” a distance of at least four hundred yards and changed direction three times while doing so. We had seen, too, an occasional “Long Tom” or “Skipjack.’’ “Long-Tom” suits it down to the ground—or to the water—for it is a long, thin, pike-like fish, clad in a livery of silvery green, which skims along the surface of the waves with the tip of its tail just hidden beneath the water, and its head held proudly erect. How it does it T know not; but in this almost vertical position it covers quite a distance before its natural element reclaims it.

Then there were the dolphins; quite a number of them. Two of the graceful beasts—a “cow” and a “calf”— accompanied us for hours, occasionally playing around

our bows, but for the most part swimming steadily beside us, with such lack of visible effort and maintaining so exact a distance from us, that one could well believe that they were held to the side of our vessel with invisible wires, or by the force of some mysterious magnetism. The wonderful and beautiful ease of their passage

Photo: C. II. Kerry

the lone pandanus, lady musgrave island

through the water held 11s entranced. They were so close that we could have touched them ; and yet for many miles they never deviated so much as an inch from the position they had taken up on either side of our prow, and within a foot of it. And all the time not a flicker of a fin, nor a sway of the body, could we see. Then, with a sudden curvet, they would flash away, and up into the sunlight ahead of us their gleaming bodies would rise, all dripping from the sea, only to return a moment later and resume their former station. I called them “porpoises,’’ of course. I suppose every quite ordinary person like myself would. But I had to deal with persons who were not ordinary. “There are no porpoises in Australian waters” I was informed by a scientist, “these are dolphins.”

And now here was Lady Musgrave! Tt is a never-ceasing wonder to a mere landsman how these sailor-fellows hit the mark. Lady Musgrave is a mere blob of thirty acres in an immensity of water: and yet our skipper found it as truly as if, like a hound, he had been laid upon its scent. Of course he had a compass; but, as the Irishman remarked, “Phwat’s the good of a compass tel 1 in' ye the north whin it’s the south ye’re wantin’ to get to?”

Anyway, here was our island. As we approached it, the trees grew higher and more definite; beneath them showed the long thin sickle of its gleaming sand; and the springing surf upon its reef.

Lady Musgrave is a small island of elliptical shape; a mere raised bank of coral sand, with here and there a crest of unbroken rock jutting out to spoil her perfect symmetry but add to her diversity and charm. The ground itself is nowhere more than twenty feet above the surface of the sea, but its height is made apparently much greater by the forty feet or so of altitude to which its larger trees attain. The undergrowth has been completely eaten away by a flock of goats which have inhabited the place for years, whereas every other island that we saw was clad so thickly in its green and tangled robe of grass and weed and low-hung twisted branches

that the crossing of it was a long, hot, and complicated task.

And while I am on the subject of the goats, here is a problem. There is not a drop of water on Lady Musgrave Island. We had to carry all we wanted from the mainland. All the undergrowth has long since gone,

Photo : C. II. Kerry


hardly a weed can be found from one end of the place to the other, every branch has been denuded of its leaves, and even the bark upon the trees has been gnawed away to the height of several feet. Yet both goats and trees seem hearty, healthy, and strong. The goats are increasing in number, and certainly the trees show no sign of growing less. It may be a race between

them for existence. But how do they do it without a drop of moisture, except that which may fall occasionally in rain? I give it up.

As we neared the entrance to the reef, the colouring of the water attracted our delighted eyes. Indeed, throughout our visit we \vere never tired of admiring the water-colours with which the Master Painter has worked in this delightful region. Beyond the reef, and all around to the horizon, the tint was azure blue, with spots of silver-white. Just near the outer barrier of the reef the colour turned to a pale and shimmering green, most wonderful to see, while all the wide lagoon inside was blotched with purple patches where the coral rocks lay hidden, and with yellow where the bottom was of sand. Blue, purple, green, and yellow—all were gleaming ’neath a quickly westering sun, whose rays they both reflected and absorbed, until they showed us such a light as never was, to most of us, on sea or land before. And if to look upon these fairy seas were an inspiration, surely to bathe in them was a dream. Placid and pellucid, warm and sparkling in the tropic sun, their invitation was irresistible. We found it impossible to refuse it, and many were the happy hours we passed as a result of our acceptance.

It was after sundown when we had completed our landing, and too late, therefore, to raise our tents and make our proper camp. Most of 11s slept upon our blankets, spread upon the open beach and under the open sky; but some of us put up a fly beneath the branches of the gnarled pisonia-trees that grew a few yards from the shore, and tried to find our slumbers with the m utton-birds.

But before I proceed to tell you what I know of the mutton-birds—and what I think of them—let me add that long before the thought of sleep had wooed us to our beds the cook had built a fire and provided us with refreshment. And then the fire on the beach; the shifting, shadowy figures beside it; the stars in the sky;

Photo: Dr. W. MacGillivray


the lights of the three launches gleaming on the darkly-moving waters; the whisper of the surf; and, above all, the extraordinary vocal chorus that swept upon us from the darkness of the trees, made up a scene and a situation that few of us will ever forget.



The chorus I referred to at the close of the last chapter came from the mutton-birds. Now the mutton-bird— alias the Wedge-tailed Shearwater—is such a weird beast that I am afraid only those who have actually visited him in his native haunts will find my story credible.

In the first place let us consider the mutton-birds from the point of view of the census-taker. They arrive at the island for the night just after dusk, and, whirling and wheeling over the tree-tops like a swarm of excited bees, they gradually settle down and find their burrows in the crumbly soil. But effectively as the sight of their crowding wings must arouse in the observer a sense of their numbers, it is their early morning method of departure that supplies the actual proof. They have a habit of walking down to the sea at the hour of dawn, along paths amid the undergrowth which by constant use have become clearly defined. These paths lead, like tributaries, into larger paths, and become wider and wider as they approach the spot from which the open beach is attained and the birds can fly away. On Lady Musgrave Island, owing to the absence of the undergrowth, this habit is not so noticeable, since the birds can get away from almost any quarter, but on N.W. Islet, in

the Capricorn Group, where the mutton-birds are specially numerous and the undergrowth is particularly thick. Dr Pocklev and T watched (at first by the light

Photo : O. H. Kerry A VISTA ON N.W. ISLET

of our torches and afterwards by that of the coming day) from half-past three to half-past four o’clock one morning (the “peak-hour” of flight) the passage of the birds along one of these runways just where it opened on a

main departure platform. They passed us during the whole of that period at the rate of at least ten per second. The gathering paths were thick with them, all jostling and pushing for their places, like theatre-goers in a queue, but eight or ten abreast. The platform itself was so black with the birds that at no moment could one have placed one’s hand with surety on a vacant spot.

Ten a second for sixty minutes! A moment’s calculation will show that well over thirty thousand must have passed us in that hour. And there are probably a hundred such platforms on the island’s two-miles of circumference! That makes a daily departure roll of about three millions for this one island—and there are still the nesting female birds and the chicks to be considered. One gathers that the family of the Tliycllodroma Pacifica is not likely to die out, yet awhile.

Most of these departing birds came along in pairs, still billing and cooing as they marched; but here and there an unmated male, on the look out for a partner, would show up, and the ensuing row would stop the whole procession. The crowding birds nearest to the combatants piled over them, until the heap spilled over in a flurry of fury and feathers. Then, just as suddenly as the squabble began, it would cease, and the procession would start off again.

The mutton-birds build their nest in the ground, and the soil, being almost entirely composed of sand and guano, is very friable. Although at times the entrances to the nests are visible, very often they are hidden by the rotting branches of the trees, which cumber the ground, and beside which the birds love to burrow. Moreover the long tunnels which these underground engineers

construct are quite invisible, although they may, and generally do, lie only a few inches below the surface. The net result of all this is that, wherever and whenever you attempt to walk, you invariably put your foot into a mutton-bird’s hole before you have gone ten yards; and in your unavoidable struggle to regain your balance the other leg goes into another hole up to the thigh—and over you go! We were on the island during the pairing and nesting season and from the moment of their arrival to the hour when they departed these wretched birds kept up a pandemonium.

The mutton-bird, in his desire to wroo his love, caterwauls like the common or house-top cat, whistles and croaks and gurgles and screams and “registers” every known sensation all through the night—and then starts off at dawn to roam the seas on never-resting wing. You can imagine—or, rather, you can not imagine—what tw^o million odd mutton-birds are capable of doing in the way of weird music when each one of them is joining in the chorus. I slept that first night under a fly beneath a pisonia-tree with the mutton-birds. That is to say, I didn’t sleep. Mr Pollock, who basely induced me to try it, said that I should find the concert soothing. But he was wrong—and I didn’t want soothing, anyway. What I yearned for most was a shot-gun. But these islands all being bird sanctuaries, even this small satisfaction wras denied me.

Nor is this all that I have to set down in my indictment of these avian clowns. They are tame with an idiotic tameness which annoys one. They suddenly appear with a softness and an eeriness that make one jump; and then they run along in a silly manner and

suddenly stop, and scpiat down, and look aimlessly around as if they were mechanical toys which needed rewinding. Then, just as suddenly, they fly up and hit

Photo : O. H. Kerry

VISTA ON LADY MUSGKAVE ISLAND (Showing lack of undergrowth)

you in the face or light on the table; and if you pick them up—as you may do with ease—they will merely wait patiently until you put them down, when they will run along and squat again in the same ridiculous fashion.

Friendly? Well, I suppose so, but it is a blundering, stupid sort of friendliness, which rather annoys than endears.

I remember one evening we were sitting round the mess-table after tea, listening to Galli-Curci on the gramophone. Right in the middle of the song a mutton-bird came up to hear what was doing, and blundered into the arm of the machine, adding to the song a gurgle which the composer never dreamed of. Then he fluttered on to the butter, and sat there with an air of calm content that was infinitely exasperating. After a pause Galli-Curci took up the song again, pretending she didn’t notice the interruption. But you could see that she was annoyed—and I don’t wonder.

Heedless of their surroundings, human or otherwise, these birds have a habit of suddenly starting to dig burrows for themselves, anywhere, at any time. And as they dig with the fury of a dog after a lost bone, sending the sand flying over everything and everybody, the habit is not altogether calculated to endear them to their neighbours.

All night long, then, these odd birds are squalling, and squawking, and squabbling in their eternal duets and triangular wrangles, throwing sand over all and sundry, and running about in their queer spasmodic way, in and out of your tent and under your bed. At any moment you can lean cut and pick one up, and if you don’t get the one you want there’s no need to worry. You’ll get another one just as good.

For the rest, the mutton-bird is a member of the great family of the petrels. It is about the size of a pigeon, a sort of rusty black in colour, and has a quaint habit of filling up its chicks with greasy food until they are as full of oil as lamp-bowls and not unlike them in the plumpness of their shape. Then he leaves the youngsters to live on their own fuel, like a camel on his hump, until they attain the ability to fend for themselves, and the end of their oil-supply simultaneously. Despite the little eccentricities of the mutton-birds, when at last we really came to know them, we learned to love them well.


One of the curiosities of the avian life on the Great Barrier is the manner in which the different kinds of birds have selected particular islands for their breeding-places, and have secured almost a monopoly of them. Thus Lady Musgrave Island and N.W. Islet are the special reserves of the mutton-birds and the white-capped noddies, while Fairfax and Hoskvn islands are sacred to the gannets. But on all the islands there are considerable numbers of the less numerous breeds—such as gulls and herons—while the terns, of which there are at least half a dozen species, although they are found to some extent on nearly all the islets of the two groups we visited, have nevertheless their own particularly favoured breeding-places.

Mutton-birds, noddies, terns, and gannets—these four make up the large majority of the avian population. But there are others, and very interesting others, too. The frigate-bird, for instance. We saw him on several occasions circling on motionless wing high up in the blue, keeping his eager eye upon the gannets seeking food below. The frigate-bird lives by robbery almost exclusively, and the gannet is his most favoured victim. Let but the latter catch a fish and start to fly with it towards the nest, and the frigate-bird is after him. To

avoid the attack of the bigger bird the gannet drops his fish, disgorging it if necessary, a feat at which he is most accomplished, and as the tasty morsel falls seaward the frigate-biid, with a splendid flashing swoop, has captured it ere it can reach the water.

Then there are the migrants—those mysteries of the


air—who come from lands as far away as Siberia to spend their stated period on these lonely islands of the Barrier. We saw many of them; at times the shores would be crowded with Golden Plovers and Turnstones (a well-named bird with black and white wings, who finds his food by deftly overturning with his forehead such stones as hide the tiny items of his menu), with Godwits and


Stints, \\ himbrels and Oyster-catchers. These last-named birds, especially the Sooty member of the family, are finely conspicuous as they wade about the reef at low tide. As his name implies, he is of a dead black colour, but his bill and legs are scarlet, and the contrast which they make to his sombre body is most striking. As he twinkles along on his everlasting search for dinner he presents a picture as charming as it is effective. And there are the sea-eagles. Not many of these, to be sure. But nearly every island we visited had at least one nest, and on Heron Island a pair had built upon a low tree immediately above the spot whereon one of our tents was subsequently erected.

The white-capped noddies, as I have said, shared Lady Musgrave Island and N.W. Islet with the mutton-birds, almost to the entire exclusion of all others. And they shared those islands in two ways. First they shared their aerial privileges on a precise and carefully kept time-table, and secondly they shared their nesting facilities in a manner peculiarly happy for both. The mutton-birds burrowed in the ground; the noddies nested in the trees; the mutton-birds came home at half-past seven in the evening and left at four a.m.; the noddies went to bed at half-past six and got up again as soon as the mutton-birds had left. They did this almost as exactly as if they worked to a schedule; and for a very good reason. The noddies are much smaller than the mutton-birds, being about the size of doves—which indeed, except in the matter of colour, they closely resemble. If the two families clashed, it would be bad for both, but the noddies would naturally get the worst of it. So, in order to prevent such clashing, instinct has provided this time-table and a rigid adherence to it.

Owing to the thickness of the vegetation on N.W . Islet we could not get into such close communication with the noddies as we managed to do on Lady Musgrave Island. But there they were everywhere, nesting in the trees, fly-


ing to and fro intent on their building operations, or resting now and then to have a look at 11s. They are certainly the dearest little birds—the neatest, perkiest, friendliest, happiest little birds I have ever had the good fortune to meet. They are of a slaty colour on the body, with the back of the head marked clearly with a white patch— hence their name. And their manners are as perfect as their bodies are neat. They build mainly on the pisonias, and these gnarled and twisted trees on Lady Musgrave Island were full of their nests. On one tree alone I counted over a hundred nests—and then my arithmetic gave out. It was only a very medium-sized tree, too. The only restriction the birds recognize on their building allotments, apparently, is that each nest must be out of pecking distance from its neighbours. If not, there is trouble; but how the owners can recognize their particular domicile among so many of the same pattern, and find it so quickly and certainly as they do must ever remain a mystery to a mere human intelligence.

The noddies are not stupidly tame as are the mutton-birds ; they will not allow you to pick them up; but if you are kind and courteous you may stroke them in their nests. The parent birds take turns in sitting on the eggs; and it is one of the prettiest sights imaginable to see them changing guard. When the process of building is going on, it is a pleasant diversion to watch the male bird catching the yellowing pisonia leaves as they flutter to the ground, and taking them up to the hen to weave and trample into the nest. Every time he takes an additional brick for the bungalow the two will have a little happy billing and cooing and talk daintily over their household and their hopes.

On Lady Musgrave Island there were not nearly enough leaves to go round, and so the fall of each was the signal for a tug-of-war between at least two eager competitors, in the course of which it frequently happened that an entire stranger came along at the critical moment and scooped the prize. And leaves being so scarce, all sorts of makeshifts were dragged in. Our

advent was a boon in this respect, bits of paper and string from the camp, rags and flotsam and jetsam of all kinds from the tents, being speedily and thankfully commandeered. On one occasion an over-acquisitive bird flew off with one of my socks and expressed considerable annoyance because he was unable to secure the pair.

Photo: Dr. JVr. MacGillivray


Once, when Dr Giblin momentarily put aside an addressed luggage label, Mr Noddy in the tree above, deeming it a gift from the gods, carried it off at once and fixed it in his nest. There it remained all the time we were there—and probably there it remains to this day— with the words “Passenger to Bundaberg” plainly visible to all and sundry as a certificate to the little owner’s

enterprise. Oh, a lovable bird is the white-capped noddy!

\\ e visited Hoskyn and Fairfax islands once, to pay our respects to the gannets. We found them at home all right; indeed, they came out to welcome us as we approached. Their comments may have been favourable, but I prefer to accept them in an untranslated form, having my doubts about the matter. On one portion of Hoskyn Island there is a central open space, rimmed with trees and covered with coarse grass and small shrubs. Its area, I suppose, is about two acres; and every foot of it is cumbered with the nests of the gannets. It is difficult to walk between them, so closely are they packed, and everywhere we found the young birds at every stage of their babyhood, from the naked infants newly hatched to those upon whose snowy sides the first wing-quills showed out like pencillings of black.

The gannet is a fine bird, about the size of, and not unlike in form, the common farmyard goose; but his markings are much more effective than those affected by the hissing horror of our childhood. His back and body are boldly painted in chocolate and black, and his breast is snowy white. The young birds, however, are just like animated balls of swansdown. In many of the nests we found the eggs yet unhatched ; but though there were often two eggs I never saw more than the one youngster in the nest. Both parents attend to the feeding of their voracious infant. This they do by regurgitating into his eager open beak the fish they have already half digested, and though the process sounds unpleasant it is most interesting to watch. These nests are all mere roughly-covered depressions in the open ground, and how the

young birds stand the heat—especially the tiny newborn things with not a bit of down to shield them from the direct rays of the tropic sun—is a mystery.

Queerly enough, it is the youngsters who show fight when one approaches the nest too closely, and the adult birds who exhibit the discretion of flight. The chicks

Photo: Dr. W. MacOillivro•*


hiss, and peck, and look as fierce as is compatible with their inches; the parent birds fly off with an agitated scuttering of wings and feet that makes them look extremely clumsy. In reality they are beautiful fliers when they get a start; but they “take-off” with as much fuss and splutter as a hydroplane, and the herbage of the gannetry tries their initial paces very sorely.

It is difficult to estimate the number of gannets on the two islands, but I suppose one would hardly be exaggerating the total it one put it at a hundred thousand. They are great fishers, and have need to be, to satisfy the appetites of their family, to say nothing of their own. Sailors call them “boobies/' but anything less booby-like than a gannet on the wing above his chosen fishing-ground, it would be difficult to imagine. Sailing and circling a hundred feet in the air he “spots” his prey below, and almost too quickly for the eye to follow, he drops like a plummet into the sea, to emerge a moment later with his capture wriggling in his beak. It is a great sight to see a number of these birds—or, for that matter, a flock of almost any sea-birds—shepherding a school of fish that has been driven to the upper waters by the menace of some hidden foe. Round and round the school they wheel, keeping its frightened members massed together, while every moment one of them will flash downwards to the waves and make a kill with ease and certainty.

All of these birds, and the millions of mutton-birds and gulls and noddies and other sea-birds which throng these islands, live solely on fish, and they are by no means light eaters. Dr MacGillivray, the well-known ornithologist, who was one of our party, once saw a noddy disgorge over fifty anchovies when disturbed. Remembering these things, you may grasp, perhaps, some faint impression of the piscine life which teems amid the reefs and waters of the Barrier. One day, on landing at little Tryon Island, a few miles away from N.W. Islet, I saw what I took to be a mass of seaweed floating close to the beach. On examination I found it to be a compact

shoal of tiny fish, each measuring about an inch or less in length. A stone thrown into the mass would cause a wild and swirling alarm, and hundreds of the fish

I'uoio: Ur. W. MacGiJlivray


would jump into the air, only to close up their ranks as tightly as ever a moment later. The shoal was two hundred yards long, and about six yards wide.

J    CD '    *



Of all the birds that inhabit these islands the Reef Herons are perhaps the most graceful. Or should I not rather say “dignified?” To watch them was ever an unqualified delight; so elegant, so stately, they were, and so spruce. They vary considerably in colour; some are snow-white —and these I think are the most attractive to the eye— while others are a greyish-black. They are not large birds, being considerably smaller than the herons I have seen about the banks of English rivers; but they certainly are most alluring, both in their aspect and in their manners. They look their best when walking along the outer edges of the reef in search of food. On one occasion we saw over a dozen of them together, preening themselves upon the niggerheads that mark the outer circle of the reef at N.W. Islet.

When the tide is low, one rarely sees more than two together. On such occasions they are usually engaged in fishing, and like most fishermen, they prefer to work alone, fearing, I suppose, that the other fellow will either spoil their catch or make a better one himself. As the tide runs out and bares the coral surfaces of the inner reef, these lone fishermen may be observed stalking from one small pool to another and finding, apparently in every one of them, some fishy titbits. With a toss of

the head and a gulp, that titbit disappears for ever— unless you happen to come unexpectedly upon the swallower, when to help him escape the more easily, he lightens his load by jettisoning his cargo. This is a habit among sea-birds in general, as common as it is unpleasant.


As the tide runs out, the herons follow it towards the outer reef, eventually ending their quest at the very edge of the coral shelving. Usually—if they are parent birds —they bring back their early catches to their eagerly waiting youngsters in the nests among the island trees. If they have no such family responsibilities, they keep their haul for themselves; and by a careful scrutiny one


can therefore tell which of them are bachelors and which are benedicts.

The nest of the heron is built of coarse twigs, and almost invariably two eggs, and no more, are laid in it. The site chosen is as a rule fairly high up (say twenty feet or more) among the branches of the tournefortia or pisonia-trees; and, although the edifice is rough, the youngsters seem to find it comfortable enough. Its usual size is about that of a dinner-plate, although sometimes it will run to eighteen inches or more in diameter. Both parents take their share of the hatching and feeding, being in this respect almost as exemplary as the white-capped noddies.

Although the ordinary silver-gull is no stranger to me, until I visited the Barrier I had never had the chance of seeing him at home. I have seen one of them steal an egg from a noddy’s nest, during the momentary absence of the owner, and then, after disposing of it, come back and offer consolation to the distracted parent—the hypocrite! The gull has absolutely no sense of moral decency, although, a cleaner-bodied bird does not exist, lie is continually attending to his toilet, and to see him enjoying a bath in the shallower pools among the coral is a sight as pleasant as it is frequent.

Unfortunately, his cleanliness of body does not connote cleanliness of table-manners. The gull is a nasty eater. He gobbles his meals and makes unpleasant noises while he is at them. Nor is his taste in food to be commended—in fact it’s offal! He has a high old time on N.W. Islet while the turtle-canning factory is working. When he and his friends find an abandoned heap of turtle-cleanings, you can hear them for miles around,

squabbling and choking over their efforts to swallow their own share and as much of the other fellow's as they can manage to steal.

The gulls nest among the bushes near the shore, and usually hatch out two fluffy greyish-coloured chicks. Dr Rodway found two such youngsters lying near the shingle

Photo : Dr. TV. MacQillivra•»


on Lady Musgrave Island—abandoned, he thought. But after fixing up a rough nest under a log and placing them in it, he was surprised by the mother-gull, who then proceeded to give as pretty an exhibition of maternal love conquering natural timidity as I have seen. I could see she was desperately afraid of the humans who lingered near; but eventually caution was thrown to the winds, and, with a swoop, she was beside her darlings. She fed them with their usual banquet of half-digested fish and then flew off again for more. Evidently she told her mate all about the matter, for an hour or so later, both of them were holding anxious consultation in the tree which grew beside the nest. In twenty-four hours, however, the whole family had grown used to the new arrangement, and by the time we left—a week later —papa, mama, and the babies were as careless of our presence as if we were not there. I have not heard from any of the family since; but I have no doubt they are all progressing favourably, and that by this time the chicks are as big—and greedy—as their parents.

One of the most beautiful sights of the whole trip, so I am assured by those of my fellow-travellers who were fortunate enough to see it, was provided on Masthead Island by the crested terns. I was not able to visit Masthead, but Di; MacGillivray was, and he related his experiences to me later. The crested terns have specialized on Masthead as a breeding-place; and they were nesting there in thousands on this occasion. So thick were their nests that it wasi almost impossible to walk between them. As they “build’’ on the shingle or near it, the whole beach is crowded with them. On the approach of any intruder they swarm upwards in flight until they darken the sky. They are the largest of the terns, of which there are many varieties on these islands (with the noddy and the silver-gull as close relations), and the power which they possess of erecting the deep black crests they wear upon their heads makes them particularly conspicuous. Their bills are sharp and

yellow, and, as is the fashion in tern society, they wear their tails long and forked.

However, if I did not meet the crested terns in their armies on Masthead, I was fortunate enough to see quite a number of the other members of the sea-swallow family elsewhere. In particular, Try on Island—a little

Jt'hoio: Dr. W. MacGiUivra*'

NEST AND EGGS OF ROSEATE TERN (Dark grey blotched with dark brown)

oval islet in the Capricorn Group—we found to be a spot much favoured by both the Roseate and the Black-naped Terns. The two varieties had apparently arranged to live apart from each other. Thus, as the visitor walks round the beach, he meets at one end of its ellipse the roseates, at the other, the black-napes, and hardly ever the two together.

The Roseate terns we found to be the more numerous of the two varieties, and also the more handsome. They have gained their name from the conspicuously ruddy colour of their beaks and feet—the latter being much the brighter red. When seen flying in mass formation, they present a truly beautiful sight. Their black-naped cousins are distinguished by the black patches on the back of their necks and by their blue-black feet and legs. W hile not so effective in their appearance as the roseates, still they are very attractive in their sooty ornamentation. As a rule the roseates build on the higher shingle of the beaches, the black-napes on the lower ledges, preferably among stones. The eggs of both varieties are exceedingly difficult to find since they harmonize astonishingly with their surroundings. When found, those of the roseates are easily distinguishable from those of their cousins by their more pointed shape and darker colour. In both cases the average “clutch” is two, but not infrequently the roseates have three eggs in the nest, and sometimes both roseates and black-napes have only one. We saw some of the chicks of the roseates, and found them vary in colour from a clear white to a streaky brown. I have no idea what their young cousins are like, for I found none.



Let me tell you something about the crabs of the Barrier Reef. Their name is legion; and although at first you might imagine they are all very much the same, a little investigation shows you that you are mistaken. I got a shock when 1 found my first hermit crab. I had often read of him, and his strange habit of fitting himself backwards into a shell and carrying it about with him thereafter because his hinder parts are so tender that he must keep them protected. I had never seen him, so, when T found a big one about the size of a large lemon, with a shell of about that shape and size upon his back, I was immensely pleased. What astonished me was his colour. I had thought crabs only turned red when they were boiled, yet here was this chap blushing all over, and certainly unboiled. He was as lively as a cricket, and when I picked him up and put him in a handkerchief, he promptly bit his way out and scuttled off in a state of violent indignation.

I saw many of his tribe afterwards, and very handsome they looked in their red armour and their painted shells, so closely fitted to their backs. We took one out of his snuggery one day, and watched him run and pick it up and put it on again. Again we took him out and sprinkled a little sand on his poor unprotected tail. He

refused to put his shell on at all, then, and looked most unhappy. The grains of sand proved too irritating to permit of his wearing his borrowed plumes. We washed him clean again, when he at once backed in gratefully, and went off sideways with a cheer.

The number of these hermit crabs is as surprising as their variety in form and size. They range from little more than a pin’s head to the dimensions of a saucer, and they utilize almost every conceivable shape and kind of shell.

There are literally myriads of crabs on these reefs and beaches. They run across the sand in droves as one walks along—at night-time especially. But it is actually in the reef itself that one finds the most amazing species, i went one day on a little crab hunt out on the edge of the reef and my catch was remarkable. I found crabs that shut up like a box; hermit crabs that place anemones on their shells, like plumes upon a helmet, and presumably utilize some poisonous secretion of these flowers of the sea as a defence for themselves; commensal crabs who live in intimate association with other forms of life; and parasitic crabs, who live upon the labours and the lives of those others.

I watched a patch of sponge, and presently saw a tiny piece of the sponge move away from the rest as though it were endowed with legs. And indeed it was. For, picking it up, we found it was a crab holding a piece of sponge over his head like an umbrella, his hindmost pair of legs being permanently and curiously bent round over his back, to enable him to do it.

A crab deliberately dressed himself with seaweed— just as a woman might dress her head with ribbons.

He cut a piece of weed from the rock, and then split it down from end to end until it was in tiny strips. Each of these he then placed upon his head or back with his front claws, pressing it down and manipulating it for all the world as if he were fixing it with hairpins. When the job was finished, there was the crab so suc-


cessfully disguised as a piece of seaweed that it was no wonder the unsuspecting small fry of the neighbourhood approached him with every confidence. And then “he welcomed little fishes in with gently smiling jaws.” There were crabs with greedy red eyes that went in and out on stalks like telescopes, round crabs, square

crabs, angular crabs, crabs so long drawn out that they looked like crabby dachshunds, grey and green crabs, blue crabs, crabs that were as variable in their dress as chameleons, crabs so tiny as to be almost microscopic, and one which was eight inches in diameter. This one is a nocturnal beast, and can crush quite large shellfish with his nippers.



Among the party were some enthusiastic fishermen who secured many wonderful catches. On the very first day of our stay at Lady Musgrave, one of our party came back with a magnificent “Emperor” to his credit. The Emperor is a beautiful fish, both to look at and to eat. He is big-headed like a snapper, and his colour is a bright salmon-red all over. Even long after death he is a splendid object; you may imagine with what glory he is clothed in life, disporting in an opalescent sea. Many coral cod—fine fish of anything between eight and fifteen pounds, coloured a lively pink—perch-like fish with ruddy markings on the jaws, and mackerel ranging up to nearly twenty pounds were caught.

It is true that no monsters of the deep—gropers of two hundred pounds and so forth—were taken, and that many of the fishermen were disappointed in consequence, having come provided with high hopes of securing some, and with the necessary tackle to do it. On several occasions I have known a couple of the ladies to wander down to the beach after tea, and, with a hand-line thrown out at random, capture two or three dozen quite good fish inside an hour or two.

And then there was our shark. We caught him in our bathing-pool at N.W. Islet, one Sunday morning

an hour or so after we had been swimming there. He was a “tiger,’ twelve feet long. A fine thrill he gave us—and plenty of scope for our cameras. He was the most photographed shark in the Pacific, but did not seem unduly proud of the fact, although he obligingly opened

t--: «


fhoto : C. li. lierm

VISTA OX N.W. ISLET (Pandanus Palm in foreground)

his mouth for a “close-up” and exhibited rage and disapproval most effectively.

The vegetation on all the islands that we visited is of very much the same character, with the single exception, of course, of Lady Musgrave, where, as I have said, all the undergrowth has been absolutely cleaned out by the goats. So completely, indeed, has it vanished that we found it possible, by stooping or lying on the ground, to see almost across the whole island beneath the canopy of the trees, which had been eaten to an even height everywhere. In some respects this absence of undergrowth is a pity, for, although it makes for ease in walking across the island, the brushwood has a tangled beauty of its own which lends an attraction to the islets which possess it.

It consists mainly of the tournefortia, a bushy shrub which grows to a height of about six or eight feet and is covered with silvery-looking leaves and clusters of greenish-yellow berry-like fruit of an acid flavour; of the scaevola, a white-flowered bush, called on the mainland, presumably from its appearance, “Native Cabbage and two species of convolvulus, with the usual tangled, trailing stems, and white and purple flowers. Other shrubs and weeds and coarse grasses there are, too, but those that I have named provide the bulk of the smaller plants. The trees may be divided roughly into four groups—the casuarina, or “bull-oak,“ which grows only near the beaches; two varieties of the ficus, both resembling in many ways our old friend the Moreton Ray fig, but with less dense foliage and a smaller fruit; the queer pandanus palm, standing on its stilted roots as if suddenly arrested during a pedestrian excursion and looking round to see where it shall go to next; and the pisonia, a fine tree, growing at times to a height of nearly forty feet, with large yellowish-green leaves and sticky seed-pods, which adhere to the birds that frequent its branches and are thus distributed far and wide. So closely and in such numbers indeed do they sometimes adhere that their unhappy bearers are actually disabled. On one occasion Dr MacGillivray saved the life of a

noddy whose plumage was so clogged with pisonia seeds that he had fallen, helpless and hopeless, on the beach.

The trunks and limbs of the pisonia are gnarled and twisted, especially near the beach or where the wind can flay them, and their timber is so soft and brittle as to

Photo: Mrs. \V. MacOiilivray LANDING THE SHARK, N W. ISLET

constitute a positive danger to the unwary wayfarer who relies upon its apparent massiveness to support him.

Apart from the pandanus, there are no palms, a lack which rather disappointed my previously conceived ideas of a coral island. I had expected feathery coco-nuts everywhere; but not a sign of one did we see, nor any of the tropical fruit-trees—mango, paw-paw, etc., which are so common on the mainland. They would grow

apace in the rich soil of these isles and would prove an inestimable boon to the visitor or to the unfortunate who might happen to be cast away there. As it is, with the exception of the harsh and tasteless figs and a few berries, there is nothing in the shape of vegetable diet to be found there. Dr Rodway (a botanist) informed me that ferns and mosses are also conspicuously absent.

So much for the flora of these islands. The only other vegetable I can find mentioned in my notebooks does not look like a vegetable at all. And, it isn’t. We saw it floating on the sea in great pink scummy patches, composed of immense numbers of diatoms, or minute algae. It is known as “whale-food;” but a more inappropriate repast for a whale it is difficult to conceive.

These floating masses of tiny vegetable and animal life are often referred to as “plankton,” and plankton is a subject of considerable interest to the scientists. In other parts of the world it has been studied very keenly and a great deal of vastly curious and valuable information has been obtained about it. In fact the investiea-tion of plankton now forms an important branch of every properly equipped marine biological observatory. To me these shifting shoals of scum were rather a blot on the beauty of the seascape than anything else; to our scientists they were objects of the most intense and titillating curiosity; to the whales they simply represent dinner!


Owing to the fact that it is only the lady turtles who ever come ashore (and they only twice or thrice a year for certain domestic purposes), it is only with them that I am familiar.

Of the four species of turtles known to these seas we made acquaintance with three: the green, the hawksbill, and the loggerhead. The fourth member of the local chelonia family is an unhappy brute who well deserves the name which science, in a moment of unusual sympathy, has bestowed upon him. lie is called Chelonia depressa. Never was name so apt; for he has every reason to be depressed. Of all his tribe he is the only one who wears no armour. And a turtle without a shell finds the world a harsh and hopeless place.

The green turtle is the commonest of all—or is so, at any rate, in the waters we visited—and the great majority of my comments refer to her and her habits, but the loggerhead (so called because of his thickened and enlarged head-piece), and the hawksbill (the reason for whose name is obvious) are met with fairly frequently. The green turtle is a harmless, innocent beast, but the hawksbill and the loggerhead will bite on provocation, if they are given the opportunity.

It is no wonder that the hawksbill, at any rate, has

a nasty temper. His is the product which is so valuable the world over, and which is known as tortoiseshell. And tor his most valuable output to be labelled with some one else s name, and that some one else a poor relation, so to speak, is enough to make the mildest-mannered turtle “snappy.”

I'hoto : Ur. W. MacUillivray


The loggerhead seems to be a coarse cross-grained creature, without any ideals. 1 don't know whether the term “at loggerheads” is derived from him, or he from it. But, certainly, once you have seen the turtle you will need no explanation of the phrase.

Although perhaps the green turtle is more numerous on N.W. Islet than on Lady Musgrave, it was on the

latter island that we had, and seized, the best opportunities for observing her nesting habits. On many occasions after tea (for that is when she generally comes ashore) we took our electric torches, sallied forth along the beach, and found her—about half a hundred of her, for that matter—engaged on various stages of her important job.

We saw her just arriving at the sea-edge of the beach, and looking for all the world like a rather large tea-tray with a big bulge in it, floating on the water.

At other times we found her tracks leading up the sand towards the tree-clumps at the top of the rise. As the tracks more nearly resemble those of a traction engine than anything else, there was never any difficulty in finding them. The alternate scrape of the flippers makes the similarity complete, even to the transverse flanges set at an angle on the tyres of the wheels.

Moreover, to ease the hunter’s task and save his time, there is an infallible guide whereby he may know whether the track he is looking at leads up from the water to the nest, or whether it is that of a turtle that, having finished her laying, has returned to the sea. If the former, her tail, bobbing up and down as she plods up the beach, makes a little indentation between the flipper marks every time it hits the sand; if the latter, as the sand behind the turtle slopes upwards, her tail never lifts above it, and instead of making a series of little pits it draws upon the sand a thin continuous line.

Following up the trail, we found her either digging her nest or depositing her eggs therein. By timing our visits and distributing them among a number of nests,

we were gradually able to witness the whole fascinating operation from start to finish.

It must be remembered that these turtles are by no means small beasts. They are sometimes four feet in length by three in width, allowing for the bulge of the carapace.

Photo : M. Ward


When she arrives at the spot—generally among the outer trees at the top of the beach—at which she decides to “build/’ she stops and thinks things over for quite a while. This is a little habit of hers all through the subsequent operations. Over and over again, she will pause and heave a sigh—the only sound I ever heard her make.

After gazing at the scenery for a full five minutes, she

resumes her job. She digs a shallow depression about a foot or eighteen inches in depth, wherein she lies, with the apex of her upper carapace just level with the surface of the surrounding sand, and her head invariably a little higher than her tail, no matter in what direction she may be facing.

In carrying out this portion of the work she digs strongly, sending the sand flying all round in a constant shower, all four flippers being utilized. But when, this depression being finished, she proceeds with the next step, her methods are altogether different. She is now about to dig out the actual place of deposit for the eggs, and the very greatest care is necessary.

It is an awkward job, and seems to be almost impossible for her. However, instinct enables her to do it to perfection.

Very slowly and cautiously she delves into the sand, using her two hind flippers only, and curling them under her in the most amazing manner. With great care she clutches a “handful” of the sand and, withdrawing her flipper, tosses it with a curious twist to one side of her body, the other rear flipper at the same time sweeping clear a place on the other side of her, whereon to deposit the next handful. The two flippers are worked alternately until the egg-hole—which is about the size and shape of a rounded kerosene-tin—is about twelve to fifteen inches deeper than the floor of the main depression. As she gets lower down the work becomes increasingly difficult, for the sand is dry and falls back if the greatest precaution be not taken. So deep is the hole that she cannot reach the bottom of it without tilting herself upwards on her forefeet in a position which is so strained

and unnatural that the poor thing is compelled to stop and sigh her exhaustion many times.

It is a wonderful example of the mystery of instinct to see this great clumsy creature, knowing nothing of the ways of the land, except on this one season every year, so neatly and carefully overcoming all the difficulties of the work. Her flippers work like hands, scooping up the sand, folding in on it until each little lot is safely deposited out of the way, and delving straight down the narrow sides of the little pit, yet never dislodging a grain of the loose-lying stuff which forms its sides. And so at last, with care and toil and patience infinite, the nest is made.


It often happens that, while the turtle is engaged in her astonishing spade-work, she encounters the buried roots of the neighbouring trees. In such a case instinct, which works so beautifully when the conditions are normal, goes hopelessly astray. Instead of changing her position, the turtle goes on digging, or attempting to dig, exactly as if there were no obstruction; the result being that the poor brute becomes almost exhausted with her efforts without making the least headway.

Of course, if the root is a huge one, she sometimes gives it best and starts all over again somewhere else, exactly as she will do if chased away from her chosen position. But it is the smaller roots, thin and pliable, but extremely tough, of which I speak. In these she catches her flippers, and knocks the sand back into her nest. By the incessant opposition of these the whole work is threatened with ruin yet she never seems to think of dodging the obstacle by so much as an inch.

Tnstinct is a strange thing always, and a wonderful thing, but at times it does seem to be a terrible drag on native industry. We once saw a turtle crawl up between two stumps, just wide enough to admit the forepart of her body, and there remain, struggling to get through until we drove her back. She could quite easily

have gone back, but, like an army “tank"—to which mechanical monster she bears a general awkward resemblance—she must push on and over everything in het path.

Often she and her friends would find their way into our tents. On one occasion one of the lady members

Photo: (7.-77. Kerry


(Note the eprss)

of the party awoke the whole camp with an outcry that “a dozen turtles” were invading her sleeping apartment. We turned out to investigate and found that three turtles were scooping up the sand among her tent-poles, and a collapse of the whole edifice was only prevented by turning them away by main force.

On another occasion a turtle, crawling up to lay, came

across a deep hole we had excavated to bury the camp refuse in the following day. Instead of crawling round, into it she marched and fell on her head at the bottom with a thump. There she lay with a stumpy tail waggling to the heavens, until once more we came to the rescue and levered her out with a pole. Did she return thanks? Xot at all! What she did was to waddle straight under the cook’s bench, which was not far away, and, pushing up against the trestle at the end, bring down the whole affair with a crash. Levering herself out of the ruins, she scuttled down the beach—the very emblem of ingratitude!

But we have left Mrs Turtle at a most critical juncture. Let us return to her. The egg-tank finished, she pauses heavily for a while and then proceeds to lay.

As I have said, the average number of the “clutch” is about a hundred; but often it is nearer two hundred than one. The highest number we counted was a hundred and eighty-seven, and the lowest eighty-one.

When the laying is done, the sand is carefully thrust back into the hole and firmly pressed home with the rear flippers. Then the turtle creeps out of her shallow tray and proceeds to flatten that out, too. It is said that she afterwards makes a number of depressions all around, to camouflage the actual hiding-place of the eggs, but this I cannot vouch for. What I do know is that there are so many of the turtles about that there are tracks and holes and depressions everywhere; so that it is almost impossible to find the nest you have seen dug, when once you take your eyes off it. The only way to make sure of finding it again is to insert a stick as closely as possible to the actual place of deposit while the laying is in process, and use the mark afterwards as a guide.

This we did more than once, and dug up the eggs for examination. They are perfectly round and of a creamy whiteness, like a ping-pong ball, but a little larger. The exterior is more like thin leather than shell, and like a

Photo: M. Ward


rubber ball with a hole in it, will take a dint on pressure and retain it. It is very tough, however, and it takes a deal of tearing to open the egg. The contents are very like those of a hen’s egg, except that the yolk is rather lighter in colour. I do not know what they taste like. Dr Pockley said he was going to poach a couple for breakfast and asked me to join him in the feast; but I declined. My appetite has its limitations. Turtle steak, however, is fine. Cooked with egg and bread-crumbs it is exactly like a veal cutlet. Turtle eggs have one characteristic which differentiates them from all others that I know of. You may boil them, but the white will never harden.

Having laid her eggs, and flattened out the nest, the turtle's work is done for good and all. As a mother the less said about her the better. She leaves her prospective family to look after itself, and never sees it again. The youngsters hatch out in about six weeks, I understand, and are about the size of a crown-piece or a little larger. When one remembers that every night for months fresh turtles come up in scores on each of these islands to lay their hundred odd eggs apiece, it is evident that if all the possible progeny lived, the sea would very soon be unable to hold them.

But the mortality among the tiny reptiles is huge. Probably not more than one per cent ever reaches maturity. The same instinct which tells them to scamper down to the sea, as soon as they have shaken the sand of their birthplace out of their innocent eyes, informs their countless and implacable enemies that there is a rich repast ready. The greedy, screaming gulls take first toll of them upon the beach, and countless fish, from mackerel to shark, are waiting for them when they reach the sea. A dainty feast indeed!



It is, as I have implied, the happy privilege of the Hawksbill turtle to garnish my lady’s toilet table with “tortoiseshell," while the province of his green brother —or, rather, sister—is to supply the banquets of the world with a special brand of soup. The Green turtle bears a kind of tortoiseshell, too, but it is worthless for purposes of ornament, and is used only as a fertilizer.

There is a small turtle-canning factory on N.W. Islet, a somewhat ramshackle affair, where about half a dozen men are employed. There we saw the turtles caught, killed, butchered, boiled, “souped,” tinned, and exported; the whole operation—“from sea to soup" as it has been described with alliterative aptness—being, though rather steamy and smelly, interesting enough to watch. Each night a couple of the employees go round the beach at high tide or thereabouts—for the turtles, naturally, can only swim ashore when the tide is high enough to allow them to clear the reefs—and capture some two dozen of the beasts by the simple process of turning them on their backs.

Unless one knows the knack this job in none too easy, for a turtle may weigh anything up to four hundredweight. It is a pitiful thing to see these poor beasts some hours later, their blood-injected eyes filmed with 76

mucus, their strained and stiffened flippers flapping hopelessly in their attempts to right themselves, their heavy sighs audibly expressing the torture they are

Photo: Mrs. F. A. Rodway


(Showing eggs and the hole which contained them)

enduring. The unhappy creatures are absolutely unable, owing to their build, to recover their rightful attitude, and must remain in that unnatural position until the butchers come along the next morning and release them from their pain for ever.

It is one of the most dreadful things about the usage of animals for human consumption that their dispatch seems always to be associated with such unnecessary cruelty—or what appears to the ordinary man to be unnecessary, anyway. We all know of the hideous torment associated with stock-trains. Here in this small industry it seems that the same insensibility to animal suffering must prevail.

Fortunately at N.W. Islet the manager of the factory is more humane than most, and the turtles are killed as quickly as possible after capture. Indeed, on some occasions his men kill the beasts outright without turning them over at all.

The execution is performed by cutting off the head of the animal with an axe, and so expert are the butchers that they usually complete the operation with a single stroke. 1 he headless bodies are left on the beach in a row for some hours to bleed, and then they are cut up in situ, and the refuse is buried in the sand hard by.

1 he obstinacy with which a turtle will cling to life is not the least remarkable characteristic of a remarkable beast. A turtle’s heart has been observed to beat for three days after it had been removed from his body! And even that is not his most amazing record for he has been known to walk twenty-four hours after decapitation. After the butchery the shells and meat are placed aboard a barge and taken to the factory, and there the flesh is boiled into soup and placed in tins—each with its half-dozen little squares of characteristic green fat—and shipped abroad. Quite a large proportion of it, I understand, goes directly to England and Europe.

However, the family seems to thrive. I he sandy beaches of the islets are crisscrossed nightly with the crochet pattern of their tracks. At Heron Island one of our party counted eighty-seven lady turtles engaged upon their domestic duties in one evenings walk; and I myself saw over fifty of the great reptiles playing clumsily in the lagoon at Fairfax.

Finally, before I leave this subject, let me observe that, as turtle-riders to the sea, our party distinguished themselves. A turtle can carry a man with ease, and many were the men—and women—whom the turtles of Lady Musgrave and N.W. Islet were obliged to carry. For, although they lay only at night, they could often be found upon the beach during the daytime, either coming to their laying early or leaving it late. It was on such occasions that we used them as festive steeds, and great was the fun we got out of the experience.

It is a comparatively easy matter to ride a turtle on the sand, but to ride a turtle after she has entered the sea, and has attained speed takes some doing. Only one or two of our party managed to master the art at all.

On one occasion I took a picture on his cinema camera of Mr Mel Ward giving an exhibition of his turtleman-ship that ought to be convincing enough for anybody. It ended, I remember, in an involuntary fancy diving act that was wholly admirable—from my point of view. Yes, in one way and another we owe the turtles of Lady Musgrave and “North-West” thanks for many a merry quarter of an hour, and I am glad to acknowledge the debt.



X.W. Islet is situated about sixty miles to the northwestward of Lady Musgrave, and our boat trip from the latter to our new camp on “North-West” was one of the most perfect items in a very perfect holiday. The sea was glorious, and all the way we skirted a constant succession of islands and reefs.

We had left behind us the members of the Bunker Group of islands, with which we had grown so familiar during our sojourn on Lady Musgrave, and had reached the more southerly reefs and islands of the group for which we were making. We had passed Boult Reef, and Llewellyn Reef—a perfect atoll whose enclosed lagoon is six miles long by two in width. We had sighted One Tree Island in the distance, and were just passing through the narrow strait of half a mile or thereabouts which separates Heron Island from Wistari Reef when the skipper turned to me and said “Did ye feel that bump ?”

1 hadn’t really, but so great is the power of suggestion that 1 said “Yes, of course,” as if no one could have failed to notice it.

“Well,” said the skipper, “that was the tropic of Capricorn. We just crossed it.”

I was very interested in this. “I didn’t see it,” I said.

“Ye wouldn’t,” said the skipper. “Not with this tide. But at low water it sticks up like a reef.”

And with that he left me and went for’ard—to “splice” something, 1 think he said.

I have sometimes wondered since if that skipper was quite reliable. But I’ve looked the whole thing up on the map, and there, sure enough, it shows the tropic of

Capricorn running right between Heron Island and Wistari Reef, just as he said.

We reached X.W. Islet, which is about four hundred acres in extent, about half-past four in the afternoon, to discover that, instead of a lagoon into which we might sail in comfort, the whole islet is surrounded by a solid reef about half a mile across, and only about five feet under water at the highest tides. This meant that only at such times could our boats get across to the beach, and, as it was low water when we arrived, we had to be rowed from the launches to the edge of the reef, and there scramble out on to the coral and wade ashore.

However, the whole thing was a novelty, and as we were seeking novelties we rather enjoyed the experience. \\ e frequently waded about that reef and gathered rich and varied treasures.

N.W. Islet has no goats, but to make up for their absence it owns quite a number of fowls. They are the descendants, it is supposed, of a few birds which escaped from a wreck many years ago. In the course of that period they have reverted very noticeably to the primitive forms from whence come all the various breeds of modern poultry. Nevertheless it was curious to meet them in the undergrowth and hear at dawn the cocks' shrill clarion announce the coming day. The wife of the manager of the factory has caught several and keeps them in a run behind her tent.



Although I may have taken overlong in reaching it, it is the outer reef itself which must always provide the great attraction of such a trip as ours. Birds breeding in their thousands may be found in many other places; fish, strange and beautiful, may be seen in other seas; turtles nest and lay on other beaches; but nowhere else in the world may one expect to see the immense and varied marine life that can be found upon a coral reef.

And so, if you will come with me for a scramble across the reef at N.W. Islet—or, better still, at Hoskyn Island —I will try to introduce you to a few of the many curious and wonderful things that live and move and have their being in the coral and its waters. It will be necessary to wear stout boots that come well above the ankles; for the surface coral is grey in death and rotten and, often breaking underfoot, is apt to scratch one's legs in a painful manner. The spicules, too, are sometimes poisonous, and such a scratch may lead to awkward complications unless great care be taken.

So, with our feet securely shod, we make a start. I do not mean to assert that all the varied creatures I am about to describe will be met with on the one occasion. But I do mean to assert, and that most definitely, that every one of them—and many many more

than I can tell you of—were seen by us (and not infrequently) during our walks across the reefs of one or other of the islands that we visited.

The tide is nearly at its lowest as we start out, and the water is cascading in thousands of little rivulets down the various shelves and declivities towards the open sea.



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Photo : O. II. Kerry


Across the whole width of the shallowing lagoon the dead and broken lumps of coral show their weathered heads, while hidden in between lie larger pools that burn with life like natural aquaria. But let us leave these larger pools for a while, and content ourselves with just the washing shallows of the reef, for if once we are lured to stand and watch the magic beauties of the

pools we shall be tempted to stay there for ever. There is time and enough for the pools later on; for the present our attention is required elsewhere.

The first thing we see is fifteen inches of black pudding with a tiara on its head. There are hundreds of these peculiar objects close at hand, lying, sometimes a dozen of them, with their heads pointing in different directions forming a giant star of velvet blackness. They are the famous beche-de-mer, although the actual species which is most favoured for culinary purposes by the Chinese is slightly different from the majority of those we see. They are not the least bit prepossessing in appearance, and they are even worse to touch. Soft and slimy and “wobbly,” they have a habit of exuding upon their captors long whitish threads which, for powers of adherence are unequalled. No, the beche-de-mer, or holothurian, is not an attractive beast, and how on earth anybody was ever found to try it as an article of diet is beyond me altogether. Ele must have been a braver man even than the discoverer of the edible properties of the oyster.

Sponges we see, too, singly and in masses.

Sea-anemones, in all sizes and colours, are in stock, too, in this gigantic emporium of nature.

But what is this—this long, thin streak of grey that flashes with an open mouth into a crevice? Work it out and see. It is more easily said than done, but here at last it comes. Tt is a coral eel, some two feet long, and one of the most striking objects of the reef. It is of that peculiar silvery hue that looks almost transparent, and which, when he is under water, renders him almost invisible.

Here are sea-urchins in great variety—echinoderms, the scientists have called them : and as the word means “birch-broom-in-a-fit” (or so I am informed), the aptness of the name will be at once apparent. Truly a sea-urchin in its native haunts is like nothing else on earth. It is a mass of spines, which seem to stick out of it totally regardless of order or arrangement. Each of these hundreds of spines is fitted with its own muscular machinery, and can move in any direction, quite irrespective of its fellows. The effect of so many spiky things all moving at once and on a different course, is positively uncanny.

Some of these sea-urchins are quite a foot in diameter. Their spikes are slightly poisonous and have a habit of breaking off and remaining in the flesh of those who touch them.

Here is a sea-snail,1 looking very like an ordinary garden snail much magnified. He carries no shell upon his back, but in place of it he wears a floriture of wavy cabbage leaf. He is about nine inches long, and broad in proportion. His basic colour is green, but the green is so spotted with browns and greys and blacks that he is apt to disappear completely against the background of his habitat. He eats the seaweed in just the same way as our garden pests eat our choicest seedlings.e

A larger pool attracts us for a moment, for a splash gives proof that some more active object than a contemplative snail is there. A glance reveals that quite a number of fish have been left here by the receding tide, and that they are beginning to feel a bit disturbed about it. Here is a little box-fish, almost as square-ended

and square-sided as his name would imply; and here at the bottom of the pool there lurks a round and indistinct object about the size of a small football, with a row of spines along its central seam. Look out for him ! He is the dreaded stone-fish, and every spine is loaded with an agonizing poison.

^ --,y . •>


And what is this gay galleon that sails into our ken? He boasts more frills and furbelows than even the most extravagant of Japanese carp. He is all spines and fluttering draperies, a combination of dragonfly and goldfish, about three inches long, with a row of long thin spines upon his back, waving fans for fins, and bright red spots all over him. Truly, a gorgeous object,

but, do not trust him! He is the fire-fish, and he, too, carries poison in the thrust of his spines.

Everywhere we can find starfishes, of many shapes and hues. Here is one some nine inches across, and of a blue so brilliant that one can hardly believe it to be natural. Close beside him lies a whole family of tiny red ones—a coral-red almost as bright as the blue of their big cousin. The blue starfishes seem to be cjuite regular in shape, and own five arms apiece, but the red ones are in both respects much more variable. Some of them have as many as six arms, some have only three; some of them are shaped like a crusader’s sword; some have one stumpy arm, and two or three irregularly-placed long ones. There is no end to their irregularities, nor any explanation of them.

Reposing—if starfishes can be said to repose—on a rock hard by, are two more varieties of the species. The brittle-star is one of them, the cushion star, the other. The first is so named because he breaks himself in pieces on the smallest provocation, or none, as he lies sprawling and wriggling in one’s hands; and the latter because of his supposed likeness to a small pentagonal cushion about a foot in diameter. And, although he does, indeed, resemble such an article, he resembles still more closely an overgrown tea-cake! He is precisely the colour of a well-browned one, and the resemblance is carried so far as to include the red and yellow “hundreds and thousands,” with which extra special tea-cakes are sometimes sprinkled and enriched. He shows no similarity to the other members of the family until you turn him over and see the broad and red-brown star across his stomach. In fact the star is the five-gated entrance to his stomach. But why he should have grown so stout a body round it, when his lesser brothers are content to be so thin, is one of those many mysteries which Nature is always presenting to us, and nowhere more often than on the reefs and corals of the Barrier.


As we wander farther out towards the reef-edge we begin to come across large patches of the coral interspersed with long sandy channels, and we note, too, a change in the character of the animal life. Here, if we are lucky, we shall find some of the larger and more brightly coloured Crustacea. This chap, for instance, who tries to back into a hole in the coral before we can reach him, is a beauty indeed, and well deserves his name of Painted Spiny Lobster.

A few yards away is a near relation marked all over with red and black patches, contrasting with the creamy-white of the lower portion of his armour.

Beneath this lump of coral are literally scores of crabs, big and little—some, indeed, so small that, although we may pick up the coral and examine it closely, it is some time before we see their tiny dainty forms.

But look out! Catch that turbo shell which is scuttling away. It’s a hermit crab, who has fitted himself with the turbo’s abandoned home, and is anxious, evidently, to avoid the detection of his theft. And what a magnificent thief he is! A brilliant crimson is his basic colour, but his back is ornamented with large white spots, and every spot is outlined with a ring of blue.

On the extreme edge of the reef, where it plunges down into the open sea, we come across Mr Mel Ward exclaiming over a little cuttlefish that he has discovered.

It is apparently about six inches long, but it is difficult to estimate correctly the proportions of a thing which is all squirmy legs and arms, and is of so bashful a disposition. 1 he difficulty is increased by the creature s ability to emulate the chameleon and by the swiftness with which he puts that ability into practice. He changes colour to suit his circumstances.

We will stay and watch the process of capture, which, like all great processes, is really very simple. Ward produces from nowhere, with all the skill of a conjurer, a kind of pickle-bottle, which he places open-mouthed a little behind the cuttle, and then tickles the creature up with the hammer he carries for breaking up the coral.

The mollusc retreats, emitting a stream of ink as he does so. Then, perceiving what he takes to be a new kind of hole provided for his especial benefit by the providence which watches over all good little cuttlefishes, he backs himself, with joy and alacrity, into the bottle. It is a tight fit, but at last he is in, all of him, down to the last inch of his last squirming arm.

His captor triumphantly puts the cork in the bottle, and there you are—or, rather, there is the cuttle.

It is probable that the last things the average person would expect to find in such places as these would be worms. Yet there are numbers of them here, and a very great variety, too.

On the beaches here, for instance, you will find without the least difficulty quite a number of a species of marine worms.

There are the worms which look something like centipedes, only their “legs” are not legs at all, but spines, which come off in the most unexpected manner. And,

as is usual with spines in these parts, whatever the nature of the beast that wears them, they are poisonous.

And worms that deck themselves in all the colours of the coral within the shelter of which they live. They build themselves tubes, from which their heads protrude like bits of spiral wire, and into which those heads disappear at the approach of any danger.

Photo: M. Ward


And finally worms which make up in bulk what they lack in grace—great fellows, two feet long and more. Some of them are iridescent, and their colours glow and change with every movement. Yes, the worm family is well represented in these parts.

On the whole I think I prefer the loricates, or chitons. Loricates are dull, but faithful, beasts. They live an

unimpassioned existence clinging to rocks. Where they are they stay.

But there is nothing quiet about their colouring. Some of them are olive-green, some are blue; others are splashed with black and purple.

Here is a leopard shark. At least, that is what one of the employees at the turtle-canning factory called him. The name is appropriate, even if it be not scientifically correct, for he certainly looks like a small shark or dog-fish. He is about two feet long, and his body is covered with large brown blotches on a lemon ground, very much resembling the coat of the great cat he is named after. But whereas the leopard cannot change his spots—this fellow seems to be able to alter his coloration to suit his surroundings, a protective habit characteristic of so many of these denizens of the reefs.

In the same pool with him is a remora—a curious fish that carries an oval sucker on the top of his head. Thereby he is enabled to attach himself to the body of a larger fish, generally a shark, and so get a free ride. What he is doing in this galley I know not, for remoras are generally found outside the reef. Evidently they are no slaves to habit, for, a few days earlier one of the ladies caught one in the lagoon.

And here is a spotted sea-snake. He is about three feet long, with a wicked narrow head and a flattened tail. He is yellow and marked as if he had had smallpox in a most virulent form. If his reputation does not belie him, he is as wicked as he looks; for the spotted sea-snake is said to be one of the most poisonous beasts in these waters. After seeing him I am content to take that statement as true.


The conchologists had a wonderful time of it in and on the various reefs and lagoons. It was a pretty sight to watch Mr Kimber, for instance, with pockets bulging all over him like those of a boy-scout, accompanied by Mr Williams, his friend and henchman, draped with bags and packages until he resembled an animated Christmastree, wading about the reef, ever and anon dipping for some treasure unnoticeable to the ordinary eye, and placing it tenderly away for future action.

One of the most curious facts about shells, is that they contain living organisms which have powers of volition, and can exercise those powers pretty freely. The animals themselves are of the quaintest shape and incomparably larger than the shells they carry. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that, speaking generally, the owner of the shell is much more interesting than the shell itself.

Take the clams, for instance. I had seen many a clamshell before I went to the Barrier, but those I had seen were white and dry and empty. How different the creatures are when seen alive and in their natural habitat!

These clams are everywhere about the reef, lying hinge-side downwards in the coral, with just sufficient

space about them to permit them to gape an inch or so at will. We saw none of the giants of four feet or more, but at least two that we found at Fairfax Island were over two feet across, while the majority would range, 1 suppose, from twelve to eighteen inches.

As we approached them their mouths shut tight with

Photo : M. Ward


a snap that sent the water shooting upwards like a geyser. But when, after a while, they opened up again, what gorgeous colouring showed between the corrugated edges of their valves! The “mantles” which line these living man-traps are of the most exquisite blends of colour. Black, with a streak of vivid red; chequers of blue and yellow; a peacock-like arrangement of scin-

tillating green and lustrous brown. It is impossible to exaggerate the brilliance or variety of their tinting.

The power of their jaws is very great, and although the stories of giant clams catching and drowning divers who have unwittingly intruded upon them may not be altogether true, the strength with which even these smaller ones will catch and hold a stick is evidence enough, at least, of their being very awkward customers for a lonely bather to encounter.

Of course we found any number of the dainty cowries. Mr Kimber assured me that he collected no fewer than twelve species on the one reef.

Here was the “melon” or “bailer” shell, of which we found at least one that was as big as a football. It was exactly the shape and colour of one of those yellow, almost orange-coloured, rock-melons. And it had all the curious watered-silk markings of a melon on its outer “rind.”

Idle animal within will, if let alone a moment, put out a wedge of fleshy foot like an ox tongue. The natives of coastal Queensland, so I am told, use these shells for bailing out their canoes—hence the popular name—and very efficient utensils for the purpose they should make.

Here and there we found the trochus, the shell of which, under the name of “trocas,” is in great demand for the making of “pearl” buttons. It is shaped like a top, is about three inches or a little less in length, and on the outside is coloured with red and white stripes, while underneath there gleams the sheen of mother-of-pearl.

HaUotis, again, was not uncommon. Haliotis is tropically known as the “mutton-fish”—from the taste of

his flesh, I suppose, for there is certainly no sheepish association about him otherwise. He is saucer or spoonshaped, lined with iridescent mother-of-pearl, and has a row of holes pierced all the way round his outer shell parallel to the edge of it.

One of the most curious of the shells found at Northwest Island—and probably elsewhere—is the “spidershell." It has a rarely strange and beautiful shell despite its name. Its interior is coloured ruddy pink, and it would be an almost perfect double cone were it not for a series of sharp horns or prominences which it throws out from the edge of its outer fold.

The turbos showed up in great numbers. These are shells like the houses of the common or garden snail very greatly magnified, and prettily ornamented with spotted circling bands of green upon their basic pink. The turbo has a way of closing his shell after him by means of a pearly button, or operculum, on his “foot.” The buttons obtained from some members of his family are, from their markings, sometimes sold by the jewellers as “cats’ eyes.”

The value—commercial value, I mean—of these Barrier shells is as variable as their characteristics. It ranges from that of the pearl oyster to that of the whelk.

However, if pearls were conspicuous by their absence, the whelks made up for it. We found any number of them and very dainty shells some of them were.

Then there was the “thorny oyster,” who looked as if he had run into a hedgehog and retained the quills for his own use. Apart from his prickly exterior this species is notable for the wonderful hinge arrangement which unites his upper and lower valves. Just like that of a

gate, it is composed of two recurved teeth, which fit beautifully into the cavities prepared for them; so that the two valves are only separated with difficulty, although they open and shut both widely and easily.

The tellinaSy too, are fairly common here, as, indeed, they are throughout the world. But they are beautiful

Photo: M. Wart*


in their smooth and tapering fashion ; and one of them, Tcllina virgcita, is marked most fascinatingly with radiating stripes of brown upon a background of cream.

Volutes and cones were met with in bewildering variety of colour and size; and Mr Kimber informed me that he had found at least three most uncommon species ranging up to as much as six inches in length. Some

of these are poisonous to the touch, one or two of the cones being even dangerous, their specially developed points having the power of excreting a venom which rapidly and very severely affects the muscular system of its victim.

Then there was the lima, which Dr MacGillivray caught and showed me on one occasion at Lady Musgrave Island. The lima is a curious free-swimming bivalve, which projects his body through the water by means of long red tentacles which look for all the world as if the beast had stuffed a tasselled mat between his valves and left the tassels hanging down all round him. His habit of swimming reminds me of the nautilus I found on N.W. Islet. Probably everybody knows the beautiful shell of the Nautilus, with its pearly whorls; and this particular shell was a beauty—about eight inches in diameter and perfect in every detail.



One of the great attractions of these islands of the Barrier is, as I have already implied, the absence of all —or nearly all—insect pests. There are also no frogs, lizards, or snakes, and the only place where earthworms were seen was Fairfax Island.

But there were quite a number of centipedes—big yellow fellows about nine inches long—on the islands. Dr Giblin and I discovered a whole family of them ; papa, mamma, and about fifteen babies, in our tent one evening.

The other insects we met with, closely resembled those of the mainland. For instance, cockroaches—not many, but fine fat ones; a few strong-flying grasshoppers and spiders were there.

There were some wasps, also. One of the party discovered that fact in a fashion that precluded all argument to the contrary. But he took no pride in his discovery, and, as nobody had any bluestone, he was unable to forget it for quite a time.

A few ground crickets made themselves audible in the evenings, and beetles, though scarce, were not altogether absent. On the other hand, there was any number of thrips. Dr Rod way told me without a tremor that he captured eighty-five on the butter during one meal, and, knowing the man, I feel bound to believe him. Fortunately these animals do not run to size, or there would have been more thrips than butter.

Most of these insects were inhabitants of N.W. Islet, Lady Musgrave, owing to the lack of undergrowth, being almost entirely insectless—except for ants, of which there were great numbers.

Dr Rodway, having as the result of patient and persistent search, collected a few beetles pinned them up on the side of his tent for safe custody. During the night the ants came and ate them.

One’s first view of the reef is disappointing. It appears to be a grey mass of broken coral. But that is because its surface is above the level of low-water mark, and is consequently exposed when the tide is out. Coral cannot live in such circumstances, and, as it is continually growing up from the depths, it is clear that its upper portions must be just as continually dying as it reaches the low-water level.

But here and there, by some strange freak of nature, there will be a break in the otherwise fairly level surface of the reef; and pools, of various depths and magnitudes, will remain even at the lowest tides, filled with warm clear sea-water, wherein the coral polyp thrives. And, of course, on the outward edge of the reef, where it slopes down suddenly to the ocean bed, the living coral can be seen in all its strange and glowing beauty.

But to see its wonders at their best, a pool within the reef should be chosen, for there not only can one watch at ease, but, the rush and surge of the surf being absent, the water lies transparent and still.

I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow now and then the diver’s glasses used by Mr Mel Ward in his prying investigations into the domestic arrangements of the marine fauna. They are simply large goggles of clear glass which, by a pad round their rims, and an elastic band which fits round the head, are held tightly

lJhoto : M. Ward


against the eyes so that no water can enter. The result is that, by simply dipping one’s head beneath the surface, one can see everything around as clearly as if there were no water there at all.

Indeed, one can see more clearly than if there were no water; for the water itself has a queer kind of magnifying efiiect, which not only adds to the visibility of the surrounding objects, but actually seems to bring them almost startlingly close. Above all, the disturbing effect of the “surface ripple/’ which militates against a clear view from above, even in these crystal seas upon a windy day, is entirely eliminated.

Coral is of many kinds. The average person, when the word is mentioned, pictures bunches of white or red stalks and twigs of a rough stony substance, strange in form and pretty to look at, perhaps, but not very wonderful after all. Well, that is but one kind of coral, and dead at that. But in life—that is to say, when the polyps are living within it—the coral is of many shapes and varieties, and of as many colours as Joseph's coat.

There are, for instance, the Mushroom corals—single corals which resemble, in their general appearance, the fungus from which they take theii name, copying, almost exactly in form and shade, the peculiar brown “pleated“ appearance of the mushroom’s underside.

There are, too, star corals and brain corals, both of which are large, partially-spherical masses, with their surfaces deeply scored or excavated. The brain coral looks exactly like the curious convoluted rounded “grey matter” of the brain. Pancake coral, in large flattened thin cakes, is also met with; but by far the greater portion of the coral is composed of varieties known as “Staehorns” from their resemblance to the branching antlers of the deer family.

These staghorn corals range in texture from the fineness almost of a hair, to the broadness of a sword, while

their coloration—and indeed that of all the corals—is


amazingly varied. But in few cases is it vivid. Soft tones prevail, puce, pink, olive-green, brown, heather-

purple, grey, orange-yellow, and lightly-tinted emerald.

Jt is not, however, the coral alone that makes a coral pool the magic spectacle it is. It is the combination of the corals with the myriad beautiful living things which inhabit them, that lifts the whole so far above the many other wonders of the Barrier. For this reason, and for

Photo: M. Ward


others, it is almost impossible adequately to describe a coral pool. But the task must be attempted; for not to tell you of the life and colour of such a pool would be to leave my record devoid of reference to that which should have been its most outstanding feature.

There were many fine pools among the reefs we visited, but the one which will for ever hold the

happiest place in our memories we found on Hoskyn Island. The dead floor of the reef suddenly broke away into an open space of nearly half an acre of clear, deep water. It was easily the largest pool we saw anywhere, and the water which filled it was about ten or twelve feet deep. There was hardly a breath of wind, and with the crystal clearness which makes these waters so appealing in their revelations in such circumstances, every rock upon the bottom, every graceful branch of coral on the sloping sides, every living thing which moved within the pool, stood out in all its wonder and its beauty almost as clearly as if no element at all were placed between it and our eager eyes.

A dozen different kinds of coral massed and tumbled down the almost vertical side upon whose edge we stood, and every living blade, and fold, and rounded crest was glowing in the green and filtered light of the tropic sun.

There was one magnificent splash of colour that showed out for all the world like a patch of purple heather on a Scottish moor; there was another group of staghorn corals whose antlers were a shade of palest green, while all their tips burned like living candelabra with a ruddy yellow flame. All around were pinks and blues, and all the shades and colours of the coral’s fascinating spectrum.

Far out in the midst of the pool, as if floating in a mist of bluish air, so clear and wondrous was the water, there lay a motionless green turtle, while round and round the edging rocks, like prisoned beasts in a cage, swam three small sharks, from two to three feet long. One of them was a carpet shark, whose patterned back

so matched the coloured rocks that when he lay motionless upon them he sank at once into invisibility.

While we watched, a great grey groper came lumbering along the bottom, nudging the tufts of seaweed as though he grazed upon them. Then, to make the group complete, a glorious fish, a yard in length, and of a vivid shining blue all over, swam fast into our ken. What he was I know not, nor did I care to know. I only knew and felt his beauty, felt it with the thrill that great music or great verse or any other perfect thing alone can bring.

But after a moment our eyes were drawn again from these more distant enticements to those which lay among the coral at our feet. Here tiny fish flashed in and out and roundabout in hundreds. And their colours! Nature, who has painted the birds of these regions with a sombre brush, seems to have made up for it by lavishing all the colours of her palette upon the denizens of the sea.

Many of these jewels were of a turquoise blue; some were striped with gaudy red and yellow bands; others were orange and black. Sometimes they would appear in a cloud, to vanish again like one fish as quickly as they came; at other times a unisonal change of their direction would set their colours changing too, as one has often seen them change from purple grey to rosy pink upon a wheeling flock of galahs beneath a setting Riverina sun. Now they came in massed battalions, gleaming with purple and gold; now single spies edged their timid way between the living fronds of coral.

And all around, on every rocky shelf, there grew those cousins of the coral, the sea-anemones, their raying and alluring arms masking the death that lurked in their embrace. A multitude of strange and tiny crabs roved everywhere, and other curious creatures of these warm and shallow waters kept them company. Truly, it was a wondrous sight; and we who were there to witness it shall ever be grateful for the splendid privilege that was ours that day.

i here came a day at last—as there must needs come such a day in every human experience—when our visit to the reefs and islands of the Barrier ended. After a night of storm—the only one we knew throughout our trip—the dawn broke fresh and fair. We waded for the last time across the shallow waters of the lagoon of N.YY. Islet and scrambled up the side of the Warrior, waiting close beside the reef-edge, as though it were a wharf, so steep and sudden is the plunge the coral makes.

()ur engine spat and spluttered its good-bye, and soon, with sails well set, we watched the islet sink below the rim of the horizon. A fresh wind and a flowing sheet carried us quickly over the fifty odd miles which separated us from the mainland; and, when at last we slowly crossed the glorious Gladstone harbour—surely one of the finest in the Commonwealth—and came to rest beside the jetty near the town, we knew that one more page of high adventure had been turned for ever.

The Eagle Fresa Ltd., Allen Street. Waterloo


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A series of readers that will delight every normal child. Only the most observant nature lovers can write stories such as are found in these little books; and only born teachers of the young can present them in such an instructive and entertaining manner. The Gumnut Readers form an enchanting highway along which children will eagerly go. Here Australian Fairyland, Bushland, ana Sea yield their treasures at the touch of magic wands. The illustrations will add to the children's delight.

THE BARRIER REEF: Australia’s Coral Wonderland Abridged from “On the Barrier Reef,” by Elliott Napier. With 34 illustrations and 2 maps. Price 1/-,

THE BIRDS’ CONCERT: and other Stories of Bushland and Sea. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price gd * „ ”•*"    '

THE ADVENTURES OF MELALEUCA. By Aileen L. Burrow, j Price 9d.    f

TEENS: a Story of Australian School Girls. Abridged by H. G. Hain from the Platypus edition of Louise Mack’s story. Price 9d

DOT AND THE KANGAROO. By Ethel C. Pedley. Price gd

THE LITTLE BLACK DUCK: and other Stories of Bushland and Sea. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price 9d.

THE FLOWER FAIRIES: and other Stories of the Australian Bush. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price gd.

SCRIBBLING SUE: and other Stories. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price gd

THE FANTAIL’S HOUSE: and other Australian Nature Stories. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price gd.

WHY THE SPINEBILL’S BEAK IS LONG: and other Stories of the Australian Bush. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price gd.

THE GUM LEAF THAT FLEW: and other Stories of the Australian Bush. By Amy Eleanor Mack. Price 9d.

THE WORLD OF LITTLE LIVES. Nature Studies of Insect Life. By Gladys H. Froggatt. With illustrations. Price gd

MORE ABOUT THE WORLD OF LITTLE LIVES. By Gladys H. Froggatt. With illustrations. Price gd


Practically unabridged from the 5/- editions, with four full-page plates and numerous other illustrations. Price x/- each


LITTLE RAGGED BLOSSOM: a Sequel to “Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.”

LITTLE OBELI A: a Sequel to “Little Ragged Blossom.”


May Gibbs's books are full of rollicking amusement and a quaint numour. In the most entertaining way they narrate the marvellous adventures of little heroes and heroines In Australian fairylands. The illustrations are as charming as the stories, and heighton the imagination.


Also, for no very obvious reason, known as the “sea-hare.”